Insurance Fraud: Discussion

From An Garda Síochána, I welcome Deputy Commissioner John Twomey, Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan and Mr. Andrew McLindon, director of communications. The committee will now take the opening statement of the deputy commissioner.

Mr. John Twomey

I thank the Chairman and committee for their invitation to attend today.

By way of an introduction, I reiterate that An Garda Síochána is determined to tackle insurance fraud. It has and will continue to invest significant time and resources in doing so. I have provided an opening statement and propose to run through it in summary form.

By way of background, we have been actively involved in the Government's cost of insurance working group. Commissioner Harris has met the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, on a number of occasions. Also, senior officers from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau have actively engaged with industry groups and individual companies for several years. I am joined here today by Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan who is in charge of the bureau and leads our work in the area.

For our part, An Garda Síochána is focused on identifying anyone involved in the making of bogus insurance claims and to maximise the potential to initiate prosecutions. We believe that the best way of doing this is through a co-ordinated approach on a countrywide basis. This can best be seen from recent activity under Operation Coatee. We launched the operation in April of this year and it is focused on the prevention and detection of insurance related fraud and associated crimes. Recently we had a specific day of action that focused on more than 20 insurance claims that we believed may be fraudulent and which, in some cases, had already involved payment being made to claimants. Investigations carried out by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau indicate that a number of targets in this operation have submitted multiple claims and in many circumstances while using false identities. The suspected bogus claims result from false claims of injury sustained through slips and falls. During the course of the searches additional evidence was gathered with a view to submitting files to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The detectives from GNECB also seized high-value cars and jewellery worth more than €300,000 along with a substantial amount of documentation and financial records. Additionally, on the same day, a number of search warrants were executed at other locations. All evidence gathered on the day of action continues to be analysed as we speak.

On an ongoing basis we work to continue to make improvements to our processes, systems and resourcing. Working closely with Insurance Ireland, updated guidelines for insurance entities on how to report insurance fraud to An Garda Síochána were developed, co-signed and published by the GNECB last year.

In October 2018, the Police Using Leading Systems Effectively, PULSE, was updated and insurance fraud and other categories of economic crime were introduced as separate crime categories. This will enable An Garda Síochána to monitor trends in the area of economic crime and plan an appropriate response.

At meetings between Commissioner Harris and the Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy, both parties agreed that private funding of a specialist insurance fraud unit was not the preferred option. However, discussions have commenced on possible opportunities to provide additional support in the areas of IT software, training and analysis. Commissioner Harris has also informed the Minister of State that, in line with the overall Garda strategy, the GNECB will focus on major organised frauds, including insurance cases and individual insurance frauds at the centre, and the more complicated investigations will be conducted by the national unit while divisional units will focus on the less complicated cases with either support from the national unit or additional training being provided to them.

This division-led approach that we talk about is currently being trialled as part of our divisional policing model that is being rolled out in four Garda divisions around the country.

In addition, the national unit will co-ordinate all ongoing investigations throughout the country. As the work is ongoing, we can begin to get an idea of the information available and the extent of ongoing investigations.

It is important that there be sufficient expertise at divisional level. This year an additional 50 gardaí have been trained. In the past two years over 130 have been trained throughout the country. An additional six sergeants and six gardaí were provided for the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau to work in this and other areas related to fraud. We will extend the competition for places in the bureau and expect it to be run in the second half of the year, with additional resources provided for Chief Superintendent Patrick Lordan and his team. In the meantime, we continue to develop in-house expertise in investigating insurance related fraud and provide training for the additional gardaí, detective gardaí and detective sergeants. They receive fraud training as part of their induction training. Throughout the course experienced fraud investigators provide presentations on both legislation and fraud investigation techniques relevant to economic crime investigations, including the investigation of insurance related fraud. Representatives from the private sector, including the insurance industry, are also invited to contribute to the course, thereby providing specialist insight into relevant insurance sector related topics.

The report on the cost of motor insurance recognises that preventing insurance fraud is not the responsibility of one party alone. This was re-emphasised at the fraud round-table discussion hosted by the Department of Finance. At the discussion An Garda Síochána committed to engaging closely with the insurance industry and meet regularly with Insurance Ireland's anti-fraud forum to discuss and act on ongoing issues. The enhanced co-operation will be very important in the future.

I will conclude by reiterating my opening comments. I reassure members of the committee, the insurance industry and the members of the public watching that An Garda Síochána will continue to deal with insurance related fraud and that we continue to take this matter very seriously. I re-emphasise the importance of insurance companies and individuals reporting potential fraud to An Garda Síochána. As I said, we are determined to identify insurance fraudsters and seek their prosecution. We commit to doing everything possible to achieve that objective.

I welcome Mr. Twomey and Mr. Lordan. What is the number of insurance related fraud incidents reported by either insurance companies or members of the public to date?

Mr. John Twomey

There are various figures. If we are talking about fraud in its broadest context, the number is probably in the region of 1,500 to 2,000.

Mr. John Twomey

In the past two to three years. If we narrow it to the issue of bogus claims-----

That is what I am really on about.

Mr. John Twomey

We investigate all cases of fraud reported to us.

What type of fraud is covered in the figure of 1,500 to 2,000 incidents reported in the past three years?

Mr. John Twomey

It covers all types of fraud. It is any type of fraud the economic crime bureau is investigating. It could be direct-----

I want to deal specifically with insurance fraud. How many incidents of insurance fraud have been reported? I refer specifically to bogus claims.

Mr. John Twomey

Since last October there have been in the region of 50 reported incidents. If we extend it to the past three years, there have been in the region of 230 to 250 reported incidents. Within those 250 claims, there could be a number of defendants. There may be an individual accident with three or five people in a car.

Some of the claims could involve three people in a car.

Mr. John Twomey

Yes.

Over the last nine or ten months there were approximately 50 in total.

Mr. John Twomey

Yes. There were approximately 50 of the type we are talking about today.

Would these have come directly from the insurance companies?

Mr. John Twomey

Yes.

Do they come from insurance companies across the board or do they come from specific insurance companies?

Mr. John Twomey

They come from companies across the board.

To what areas do they relate?

Mr. John Twomey

They relate to bogus accident claims and slips and falls.

How many of those bogus insurance claims are currently under investigation and have not yet been cleared?

Mr. John Twomey

All 50 are still ongoing. They are at different stages of investigation. We are awaiting decisions with regard to prosecution for some while others are still in the early stages of investigation.

Who in An Garda Síochána investigates these cases?

Mr. John Twomey

They are investigated by a combination of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and divisional units under the direction and control of the local superintendent. An assessment of the complexity is made by Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan and his team. The more complex cases are dealt with by the central national unit, in which a team deals with such issues, while the others are dealt with locally. A detective superintendent is appointed as our liaison with the industry. He liaises-----

Who is that liaison?

Mr. John Twomey

Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan.

How long has he been in that post?

Mr. John Twomey

He has been in the post for a number of months. He had a predecessor. He is newly appointed to the Garda National-----

It is not a new post. It has always existed.

Mr. John Twomey

That is correct.

How long does it typically take to carry out an investigation? I am interested in that. Apart from the 50 cases that have arisen since October, are others still under investigation? What is the total number of cases under investigation?

Mr. John Twomey

The total number of cases in this area over recent years is in the region of 220 or 230.

Are those cases still under investigation?

Mr. John Twomey

Some have been through the courts and have been concluded.

I am more interested in knowing how many are still under investigation.

Mr. John Twomey

I do not know the specific number that are still under investigation. I can say that all the complaints we receive are investigated to a conclusion, either to the courts or as far as we can bring them.

How long do they typically take to investigate?

Mr. John Twomey

They generally take three to six months, but it depends on the complexity and the number of people involved. Some of these cases are not straightforward. It may depend on timelines, when we are told about the incident, and when they happened. Sometimes events are reported to us that occurred a number of years ago. That adds to the complexity and lengthens the timelines.

They take approximately six months. The number of cases seems relatively low. Does Mr. Twomey regard that figure as low? We hear about major bogus claims and fraud but the number being advised to An Garda Síochána appears relatively low. Does Mr. Twomey regard it as low?

Mr. John Twomey

It must be seen in the context of the other demands placed on An Garda Síochána. We face greater demands in other areas. Even within the area of fraud covered by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and Detective Chief Superintendent Lordan, this area does not represent the biggest volume of crime being investigated.

We hear suggestions that An Garda Síochána should have a designated section to deal with insurance fraud only. Why has the Garda Commissioner not supported such a proposal? Why is he going with a divisional-led model? Will Mr. Twomey expand on that? When he is talking about that, will he expand on the number of personnel within An Garda Síochána who have skills in investigating insurance fraud? He has made reference to such personnel, but what is the level of expertise within the organisation in respect of accountants and forensic people who have the skill sets to carry out such investigations? What form do these investigations take? On the more specific macro point, why is An Garda Síochána not establishing a specific unit to deal with the scandal of insurance fraud?

Mr. John Twomey

I will answer that question in a number of ways, if I may. First, the proposal was for a privately funded insurance unit within An Garda Síochána. An Garda Síochána wants to provide a policing service to all members of the public, not just those who provide funding. We believe our obligation is to provide the service that is needed and not necessarily a service just to those who come forward and pay. That is as much an ethical issue as anything else. We in An Garda Síochána need to police the country and we will meet the demands, whatever they are.

This leads me to the second point. We apply resources depending on the demand. We are satisfied that there are sufficient resources to deal with the demands we have talked about or the number of claims we have talked about. As I said at the outset, this area of demand is not the largest of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau. The chief superintendent dedicates the resources in that area. Resources are constantly kept under review. I talked about the additional resources that would be provided before the end of the year. These are constantly under review. The chief superintendent, through his assistant commissioner, will come to An Garda Síochána and make a business case for additional resources. That is why the decision has been taken that somewhere in the region of 35 to 50 additional personnel will be provided to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau between now and the end of the year. This is to meet the demand that the chief superintendent has identified. I refer to the number we are satisfied are required to meet the additional demand.

On insurance fraud, a figure was given of 1,500 to 2,000 over the past three years. What was the specific number? There have been 50 insurance fraud matters arising since last October. What percentage of all fraud does insurance fraud comprise?

Mr. John Twomey

The figure we have for the nine-month period is in the region of 1,500. It is out of that number that we are dealing-----

Mr. Twomey is saying that only 50 of the 1,500 cases relate specifically to insurance fraud.

Mr. John Twomey

Yes. I refer to the particular issue we are dealing with today. There may be other cases in consideration in respect of which we have information but have not yet completed our assessment, but I would not expect the number to increase to any great extent over what we are talking about here today.

I will go on to the other part of the question. It is important to try to understand the structure we use. We have a national unit that sits at the centre. It deals with the more complex cases. There may be an international element or various strands that involve people throughout the country. In these types of cases, the chief superintendent and his team will direct and lead. They will provide assistance and expertise to a chief superintendent or superintendent at a divisional level in the less complicated cases. The more straightforward ones are investigated by individual detective sergeants or detective gardaí. All of our detective sergeants and detective gardaí are trained on fraud. They get basic training on fraud. Over recent years, in the region of 180 gardaí have got specific training on insurance related fraud. Therefore, we have a tiered response. We have detective gardaí at the basic level. At the next level, the figure is in the region of 180. At the national unit, Detective Chief Superintendent Lordan has in the region of 100 resources available to him. As I said earlier, the business case for increasing the resources has been approved.

Demand led. Representatives of the insurance companies were before us last week. Some of them stated they reckoned up to 20% of claims were fraud related, yet we find that the fraud related complaints referred to An Garda Síochána account for only 3% of what happened since last October. There were 1,500 in total, and only 50 of those related to insurance fraud. There is inconsistency between what we are told by some of the insurance companies and the reality of the complaints.

Deputy Commissioner Twomey might respond on whether it could arise that it was decided to not allow complaints on fraud received to be regarded as fraud. Does the figure of 50 fraud matters comprise the cases An Garda Síochána deemed to be fraud? What is the total number of fraud insurance complaints that were received, some of which might not be deemed to have been in the category of insurance fraud? I am looking for the total number of reports here.

Mr. John Twomey

I do not have that figure available to me here today. I do not imagine that there is a considerable increase over that number because the threshold is on the balance of probabilities. If it is probable that a crime has been committed, we will accept and record it as a crime committed and will commence investigation. That is different to the investigation, which is on a different balance of probabilities. The threshold for the recording of a crime is a different threshold than that for the prosecution of the crime.

We have a lot of liaison with the insurance industry and have a very good working relationship with it in dealing with all these claims because we are as intent as is the industry on ensuring that there is no fraud committed.

If the demands on An Garda Síochána from reported insurance fraud increased significantly, would the force then look at the need for a specific, dedicated insurance fraud unit within An Garda Síochána?

Mr. John Twomey

We would then look at increasing our capacity to deal with it. Going back to the original question of looking for a privately funded unit, the answer to that would be "no". We would, however, be looking to provide additional resources in the specific area. As we would in any area where there is demand, we are always looking to provide sufficient resources to ensure that we investigate and provide an appropriate response to the community.

Can I just take the witnesses through a couple of points for clarification? On fraud, what is the difference between fraud and exaggerated claims, a term that is being used now, or are exaggerated claims fraud?

Mr. Pat Lordan

I see no difference between an exaggerated claim and fraud. The view of the insurance industry is the same. This is not right across the board, where some parts of the insurance industry may say it was a mistake or someone was trying to claim little bit more, by accident. My view is that if one has a claim for €100 worth of water damage, and change it up to €1,000, that is fraud.

If a person was in a car accident and claimed that he or she was injured beyond what the person was, would that be seen as fraud?

Mr. Pat Lordan

Absolutely, but the difficulty we have with both of those scenarios is proving it. Where the householder has an invoice or receipt for €1,000, it is quite difficult then to show that it is fraud.

Mr. Pat Lordan

Likewise, with a lot of these fraudulent claims, they represent minor enough injuries, like whiplash, for example. It is quite difficult for us to prove, when we investigate such a case, that the person does not have whiplash.

The guidance on reported suspected fraudulent insurance claims within An Garda Síochána's code of practice with the insurance industry states "an offence of deception relating to exaggerated claims takes place" and it goes on to say where it takes place and should be reported. Should claims that are believed to be exaggerated and which are defined as fraud be reported?

Mr. Pat Lordan

Absolutely, yes.

Is Mr. Lordan familiar with section 19 of the Criminal Justice Act 2011 on disclosure?

Mr. Pat Lordan

I am, yes.

What onus does that place on me or on any other person, if I am aware of a fraudulent claim, because fraud is one of the relevant categories in that legislation?

Mr. Pat Lordan

There is an onus on the person to report it, if the person knows that the information that he or she has can assist An Garda Síochána in an investigation, in showing that somebody else in the room committed or carried out an act of fraud. There is a list of offences covered by it.

What is the position if I do not report it?

Mr. Pat Lordan

There can be an offence.

Is it a criminal offence?

Mr. Pat Lordan

It is.

This has a maximum potential prison term of five years.

Mr. Pat Lordan

My own view on this - I presume the Deputy is talking in particular about an insurance company here - is that if one is an insurance company or bank and wants to report a fraud or crime, one should report it in the normal way that any crime should be reported, other than relying on the section 19 report.

Section 19 of the Criminal Justice Act makes it a criminal offence for the insurance industry and the entity - including possibly the person but definitely the entity - not to report an issue of fraud.

Mr. Pat Lordan

That is correct.

We have the insurance industry giving us the spin about the 15,000 cases. Obviously, one can extrapolate or argue that they conducted - if they genuinely believe that - 15,000 criminal offences under section 19 of the Criminal Justice Act 2011.

Mr. Pat Lordan

One would have to see the scenarios with which people in the industry are faced when they land on their desk. We always say that one can look at a case and one can suspect all one likes, but if one has no evidence or proof that this happened, there is no real point in starting an investigation where one has nothing to show.

That is from-----

Mr. Pat Lordan

I always use the example of the shopkeeper who thinks that Johnny stole a bar of chocolate but he has no idea whether he did; he just did not like the look of Johnny going out the door. There is no onus on that shopkeeper there to report that gentleman for the theft of the chocolate because-----

Mr. Pat Lordan

-----it is a mere suspicion at the back of his mind that this may be the person who did it. In the insurance industry-----

That is fair enough in relation to suspicion as opposed to stating facts. When an insurance industry says then that there are 15,000 cases, that is a different matter.

Mr. Pat Lordan

Yes, that is a different matter.

Are people ever prosecuted under section 19 for failing to inform the Garda of activity that would be relevant in the prosecution of a crime, particularly one of fraud?

Mr. Pat Lordan

I do not have the details of any prosecutions here but I know they are very rare, if they are there. It is quite new legislation; it has been there since 2011. It is used quite a lot in the auditing and accounting world and the legal profession to report matters to us. We see quite a substantial amount of reporting. The insurance and banking industries make significant use of it.

Mr. Pat Lordan

It is rare when we come across cases where someone should have reported something and they did not. The onus is on them to report it and normally the entities we deal with are quite good at reporting matters.

When we look at the figures, 50 cases have been reported. I do not believe the spin from the industry about the 20% figure, which is somewhat debunked now in the public mind. Equally, I do not believe it is as low as 50 cases. What is the responsibility in this regard? Is it on the balance of probability that they have an onus to report?

Mr. Pat Lordan

Yes, I would say so. They have to suspect that a crime has been committed and that they have information to show that.

In fairness to the industry, the 50 cases we talk about could involve quite a substantial number of claimants in each one, as was pointed out by Deputy Commissioner Twomey. There could be four or six. We have, for example, one case in which 14 people are involved in one claim. That could bring the figures up closer to what has been quoted recently as being 600 or 700 cases. It is still a long way, as the Deputy states, from the 20% figure.

If the industry reports a claim, they also have to follow it through. They have to appoint somebody, work with the Garda district inspector, report it to national level, and stick with the claim, which creates a burden on the industry.

Mr. Pat Lordan

It does, but in fairness to the industry over the last number of years, the companies have all increased their workload dramatically in that area. Since I took up my current position four years ago, most of the companies have taken on the challenge of challenging these claims. I believe that they are succeeding in many more cases that probably never reach us.

If they are challenging them because they think they are fraudulent, they have a responsibility, regardless of their challenge, to report that to the Garda under section 19 of the Criminal Justice Act. What about the cases we hear of where someone is in court, he or she has been involved in an accident - or may not have been involved where it may have been staged or whatever or he or she has exaggerated the claim - where the judge does not award any compensation or money to him or her and her or she walks out the front door?

People will state that such individuals were chancing their arms submitting claims which, in fairness, the industry challenged and the judges involved found for the industry by deciding that they were not valid. However, the Garda does not go knocking on such people's doors to investigate them for fraud.

Mr. Pat Lordan

This is a matter that arose several times at the cost of insurance working group. There were different versions of how it was reported. In some cases, it was reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions and other times to the local Garda station. We told the industry that if the insurer's solicitor is in court and is aware of the facts, the company should be reporting it as a fraudulent claim. We do not have a garda in court to witness what goes on there. The onus should be on the solicitor or representative of the insurance company who is in the court to identify a potentially fraudulent case. We are getting some of those.

The Garda may be getting some of them but the point is that where what happens in such cases is not reported, those involved are getting away with committing crimes. I take the point that the Garda does not supervise the courts and so on. The Houses of the Oireachtas place the onus on the insurance industry and the companies involved to pass the relevant information to the Garda. In cases where it is beyond the balance of probability and where there has already been adjudication in a court of law, is failure to report not contrary to section 19 in terms of open disclosure?

Mr. Pat Lordan

We would have to look at each case. Our burden of proof is that something must be beyond reasonable doubt in order to allow us to prosecute a criminal case. We have a couple of those cases on our books at the moment. When they arrive as complaints, the feeling we get is that they are very easy cases to prosecute. However, when we dig into it we find that in the civil court in which the insurance company is dealing with it, the complainant is more than likely obliged to get into the witness box and can be challenged on the evidence he gives in court. In a criminal case, he is not obliged to say anything to us when we knock on his door. I know of cases where gardaí have called to somebody's door and have been told that the person has nothing to say in respect of the case. Often, there is not sufficient evidence to make an arrest.

I am not talking about the individual who is trying to scam. I am talking about the individual who tried to scam, who has walked out of the courthouse after losing the case but has not really lost anything and the insurance company has not reported that to the Garda. That is a criminal offence.

Mr. John Twomey

I think in the circumstances they have to be assessed on an individual basis. These are cases are dealt with in the civil court, which is different, as we all know, from the criminal court. An assessment has to be made by the insurance company as to whether, on the balance of probability, it believes that a crime has been committed. In those instances, the company involved must forward the matter to An Garda Síochána for investigation. In the context of our ongoing liaison-----

It does not say anything about the balance of probability or anything like that there. The onus is on the insurance company according to the legislation, which states, "A person shall be guilty of an offence if he or she has information which he or she knows or believes might be of material assistance in preventing the commission by any other person of a relevant offence or securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any other person for a relevant offence." The word "person" in that context can refer to a company. A relevant offence is defined as fraud. Where a judge adjudicates that a claim is not valid and the insurance company representatives just go back to the office and continues working, the company in question has information that it knows or believes might be of material assistance in the prosecution or apprehension of an individual.

We need to be careful here because they are crimes, obviously. However, this needs to stop. We cannot have this revolving door system. There is also a responsibility on the Garda to impress on the insurance industry that it has a responsibility and that if it is not reporting those cases, it is committing an offence. The Garda needs to be willing to step up and prosecute the individuals or companies in that regard.

Mr. John Twomey

The protocol we have signed with the industry is intended to ensure there is clarity around the rules and regulations and the working relations between us. We have a liaison officer with the industry. An Garda Síochána has taken many steps to bring clarity to the issue. As I said twice in my opening statement, where we receive a complaint of fraud, we will investigate it.

On that, how many of the 50 complaints received from the insurance industry have been withdrawn? Can Mr. Lordan break them down into categories? How many were found to be worthy of investigation?

Mr. John Twomey

Those 50 have been entered in and are being investigated as we speak. They are being actively pursued. They are not withdrawn. As far as we are concerned, we are happy that a complaint has been properly grounded and we are conducting a full investigation.

All of them are live cases.

Mr. John Twomey

Yes.

We had a suggestion in the cost of insurance working group that private industry would fund a section of the Garda. I immediately objected to it. Regardless of who is paying, private money and the Garda should not mix because of the independence of the Garda and everything that goes with it. I am glad that is off the table. We wasted a lot of time in respect of it. However, I am very concerned at Mr. Twomey's statement that discussions are commencing with the Department of Justice and Equality on possible opportunities where the insurance industry may be asked to provide financial support in areas that could assist insurance fraud investigations, such as IT, software, training and analysis. Is that not just another version of private money mixing with the Garda? Why are we going down this road?

Mr. John Twomey

To be clear, we are not talking about private money being used in any way to resource An Garda Síochána. If we consider the amount of information the industry has available to it which may be of assistance to us in progressing our work, there is merit in some of that being discussed and pursued. Using our crime database, we do a lot of work through analytics to help us be more intelligent and smarter in how we go about our business. That is really what we are talking about here. We are considering whether we can use the information currently available to enable us to be more effective in terms of reducing the opportunity to commit crime and improving the possibility of bringing people to justice.

While I welcome that clarification, the opening statement says: "However, discussions have commenced with the Department of Justice on possible opportunities where the insurance industry may be asked to provide financial support". It refers to financial support.

Mr. John Twomey

It is in the context of the areas I talked about, so as to provide the financial support to provide the information, data and knowledge around that and to enable us to do it.

Is it providing the data or providing financial support?

Mr. John Twomey

There will be a cost incurred in providing that data for us. We will want those data in a certain format to enable us to work with them. There is no difference between the two of them. To be clear, we are making a very clear distinction. We are not in favour of a privately funded unit in this area.

I know the Garda is not in favour of a privately funded unit but-----

Mr. John Twomey

We do not believe we are crossing the divide in terms of what we are suggesting. If there is work to be done to provide information in a certain format to enable us to do our job, we think it should be done.

The insurance companies will do it at their end. It is not a case that they will gift the Garda IT systems or software.

Mr. John Twomey

No. It is the data we want, in a format we can use and that is compatible with our systems.

I am a strong advocate of an insurance fraud squad as a separate unit. The unit we are talking about, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, GNECB, has a number of subdivisions. I believe there are six in total.

Which one does fraud fall under?

Mr. Pat Lordan

Fraud falls under the remit of the serious economic crime units. We have four units dealing with that.

Four units for serious economic crime, and-----

Mr. Pat Lordan

They primarily deal with all serious economic crime, from investigations worth a couple of million euro right down to wrongdoing on the part of an accountant, solicitor or policeman.

Is one of the four units in that section assigned to insurance fraud?

Mr. Pat Lordan

Not in its entirety, because those units deal with a vast array of different frauds. They deal with more than 20 different areas of fraud, including investment fraud and account takeovers.

What is the staffing complement?

Mr. Pat Lordan

There are four gardaí and one sergeant in each unit.

That makes 20 individuals. Could Mr. Lordan make a guesstimate of the portion of the work accounted for by insurance fraud?

Mr. Pat Lordan

There are three very substantial investigations at the moment. They entail almost 60 different claims.

I am hard on the insurance industry, but it tells us there is no point in reporting fraud to the Garda because it does not have the resources to deal with it. We hear this from other actors as well. We are told that unless the report concerns something major and organised, like the cases Mr. Lordan refers to involving multiple claims and fake identities, it will not be investigated thoroughly. It is probably next to impossible to do so with only 20 gardaí.

Mr. Pat Lordan

Those units investigate the more complex cases. The less complex ones are investigated throughout the country. In recent years there have been many successes in investigating all types of insurance fraud throughout the country. It is not true that we are not capable or do not have the capacity. Some 132 gardaí have been trained over the past three years alone, 44 every year. They are not all dedicated to fraud 100% of the time. That is the world we live in. We must accept the challenges in front of us. The economic crime bureau cannot dedicate them to one type of fraud 100% of the time. Tomorrow morning a company might lose €2 million, in which case we will try our best to get that money back overnight or in the next few days. We have to prioritise what is in front of us. Those three investigations are working well and will progress further in the next few months.

I welcome Deputy Commissioner Twomey and Detective Chief Superintendent Lordan. I thank them for the opening statement and for being here. I will start with the issue of prosecutions and convictions for insurance fraud. It has been impossible to get any data from the Courts Service or the Minister. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has referred to some cases anecdotally. Do the witnesses have any data on the number of convictions there have been in Ireland in respect of insurance fraud under the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004?

Mr. John Twomey

If possible, I think it would be best to provide a written note on that. I can cite numbers but it is not a straightforward answer. If we conduct an investigation in one area it might lead to a prosecution in a slightly different but related area.

I ask the witnesses to provide us with some background material on that.

To be clear, I am referring to offences under section 29 of that Act. What prosecutions have been brought and what convictions have been secured? It has proven very difficult to get any data whatsoever on that front.

I refer to the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, in this area. Let us say an insurance claim is thrown out of court on the basis of false and exaggerated information being provided. Is that ever referred to the Garda by the justice concerned or is it passed directly to the DPP? How does that work?

Mr. John Twomey

It has happened on some occasions. If a complaint is made to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it is then forwarded to us. However, the majority of cases come to us via insurance companies. That is the mechanism through which they come to us.

I would have to check our records to be 100% sure.

That is fine. Perhaps Mr. Twomey could check and come back to the committee. Without going into numbers he does not have to hand, is it the case that there have been prosecutions and convictions in respect of insurance fraud?

Mr. John Twomey

Absolutely. There have been convictions for insurance fraud.

Can Mr. Twomey provide the details to the committee?

Mr. John Twomey

Absolutely. I just need to ensure the figures are accurate.

That is fine. We hear some insurance companies, as well as reports on "Prime Time" or in the newspapers, refer to fraud tourism. It is claimed that Ireland has been identified as a soft target by gangs which come here and stage accidents to benefit from what is regarded as a generous claims environment and system of awards. Is there any evidence of that? Are any of those cases being actively investigated? Is there fraud tourism?

Mr. John Twomey

There are cases where claims are exaggerated and people attempt to manipulate the system. The answer to that question is "yes". Some of those cases are part of the investigations undertaken by Detective Chief Superintendent Lordan. To go back to an earlier point, they are some of the more complex investigations, which are led by the national unit. To answer the Deputy's question, there are ongoing investigations of the type of cases he describes.

I refer specifically to cases where people come into the country for the purpose of carrying out insurance fraud, that is, staging an accident and making an insurance claim.

Mr. John Twomey

We can provide detail on that. I am certainly aware of a small number of such cases.

Are they being actively investigated?

Mr. John Twomey

Absolutely. If I may reiterate, when we receive a complaint concerning the commission of a crime we investigate it. I cannot stress that enough. We are intent on removing people who commit any type of fraud.

How difficult is it to get a conviction?

Mr. John Twomey

I am not sure it is possible to answer that question because every case is different. The evidence in some cases is stronger than in others. The witnesses in some cases are better than in others. Evidence will still be available to us if a case is international. We have very good relationships through Interpol and Europol. We use those mechanisms to provide evidence to enable prosecutions on a daily basis.

I wish to ask about the divisional-led approach. In his opening statement, Mr. Twomey said it is being trialled as part of four divisional policing model pilots. How many divisions are there in the country?

Mr. John Twomey

There are 28.

This is being trialled in four of them, is that right?

Mr. John Twomey

Yes.

Which four divisions are they? Is that public knowledge?

Mr. John Twomey

It is. The divisions concerned are Galway, Mayo, Cork city and Dublin metropolitan region south central. For clarity, we have divisional representatives in all of our Garda divisions. This is an enhanced model we are rolling out to streamline the entire Garda division and all the policing activity in it. Trained personnel are deployed throughout the country. This is an enhanced model of policing which we are rolling out.

I wish to be clear on the structure and hierarchy here. More complex cases are investigated by the national economic crime bureau. If the crime occurs within one of the four areas where the divisional-led approach is being trialled and it does not meet that threshold of complexity, it is dealt with at divisional level.

Mr. John Twomey

Yes, with assistance from the national economic crime bureau.

If a crime occurs within one of the 24 divisional areas where the new approach is not being trialled and it does not meet the level of complexity requiring it to be dealt with nationally, who investigates it?

Mr. John Twomey

There are three tiers. The first is the national economic crime bureau. The second tier consists of investigations that are slightly more complicated than the basic ones. In those cases, assistance is provided by the national unit. That assessment is made by the detective superintendent we mentioned previously.

The other cases are investigated by the detective gardaí in place throughout the country. Trained personnel are dealing with fraud investigations throughout the country. If assistance or more expertise is required, it is provided from the national office.

Are there gardaí focused exclusively on insurance fraud?

Mr. Pat Lordan

In Cork city there are gardaí dedicated to insurance fraud investigations. However, in many other divisions gardaí are not perhaps in an official fraud unit, but they spend the majority of their time in it. Several throughout the country have good cases and successful cases. They are dedicated almost 99% or 100% of the time to fraud investigations. More and more, we are seeing chief superintendents throughout the country dedicating personnel to fraud investigations. As we speak, personnel are travelling up from the country to spend two or three weeks - in one case someone is coming for three months - with our unit to gather further information and knowledge in order that they can bring it back to their divisions.

I wish to develop what the assistant commissioner, Mr. Twomey, was saying. We have four pilot divisions. There are trained gardaí in all of the other divisions, not only one or two. There are five, six, seven or eight gardaí trained in most of those divisions.

If the trial works in the four divisions, is it the intention to roll it out to all 28 Garda divisions?

Mr. John Twomey

Yes.

What is the timeframe?

Mr. John Twomey

We are hoping it will commence before the end of the year. The conclusion time will probably be a little further down the road. We expect the original pilot scheme in the four Garda divisions to be assessed during the third and fourth quarters, with an extended roll-out commencing after that.

Have additional resources being provided to back up the new divisional-led approach?

Mr. John Twomey

Yes, they have. In each of the four areas we have streamlined the administrative process. We have provided administrative resources and redeployed several gardaí from administrative posts in each of the four areas. Some of the new recruits coming from the Garda College have helped to provide additional resources in front-line policing, especially community policing.

The Garda representatives have said that since October 2018 a total of 50 reports of potential bogus insurance claims have been referred to the force. They have all been reported by insurance companies. Is that the case?

Mr. John Twomey

Yes, that is the case.

Are there other channels through which suspected insurance fraud cases can make their way to the Garda?

Mr. John Twomey

Individuals can make a compliant if they think they have been affected by it. Fraud-related complaints will come to us from insurance companies or through members of the public primarily.

Is there a figure on top of the 50? The 50 cases were referred by companies.

Mr. John Twomey

The 50 cases are specifically related to the topic about which we are talking, that is, exaggerated or false claims.

Or the reports from companies. Is there a significant further figure for reports from the public or other sources?

Mr. John Twomey

We mentioned a figure of in the region of 1,500 other fraud-related cases.

What about insurance fraud?

Mr. John Twomey

The figure of 50 is related to insurance fraud.

There not many others. Mr. Twomey is shaking his head.

Mr. John Twomey

No.

Mr. Pat Lordan

There are a few examples of people reporting false claims related to a mobile phone to a company that insures it, but there would not be many. I am keen to clear up one point. There was a sense from some private businesses that they could not report to the Garda in the same way insurance companies could. At a recent meeting I clarified the matter. There are plans in place to draw up guidelines for other industries to report if they need to report to us.

When the head of AXA was before the committee last week, he told us that the company had achieved savings last year of €90 million in the area of fraud. He said it represented approximately 4% or 4.5% of gross written premiums, which is a substantial figure, but something does not quite match up, given the low number of referrals. Perhaps the companies have no confidence that cases can be taken through the system, but that is not necessarily the fault of the Garda. It could be because of the judicial system or the legal framework or that the burden of proof is so high. In any case, there seems to be an extraordinary mismatch between the level of fraud in the market about which the companies are telling us and the low level of cases being reported to the Garda. Does the Garda deputation have any observation to make in that regard?

Mr. Pat Lordan

The Deputy hit the nail on the head with his point about the standard of proof being difficult for us to reach. Many of the insurance companies are utilising their expertise in establishing that a claim may be exaggerated or fraudulent but they may not believe that they have reached the threshold whereby they need to report it to us. They may figure they will not succeed when they go to the Garda. Sometimes these cases are four or five years old by the time the companies establish that there is fraud. There may be no CCTV or telephone records. They may be relying on someone to talk to us as a witness. That is difficult to get.

Is it the view of our guests that, in general and on the basis of their experience, the actual level of fraud is in excess, perhaps significantly so, of what is being reported to the Garda?

Mr. Pat Lordan

This is the case worldwide in the context of the amount of fraud reported vis-à-vis the amount committed. There is a dramatic gap regarding what is reported to the Garda or any other police force throughout the world. In the statistics worldwide, fraud is one of the most under-reported crimes. This is primarily because the level of fraud has increased dramatically. Even in Ireland, the figures for the first three months of this year show an increase of 28% in the amount of fraud reported.

Would the Garda representatives not think that insurance companies have a vested interested in this area and would like to make an example of those bringing fraudulent claims? Would companies not like those involved to be publicly accused in court and eventually convicted of insurance fraud? Would it not be in the direct financial interest of the companies to ensure this happens? Yet, those companies are referring few cases to the Garda. After last week's events, I suspect that may change in the period ahead. They might need to look at extra resources in this area because of a sense of obligation to refer more cases in the aftermath of this meeting and that which took place last week. It is difficult to understand why they have not done so up to now.

Mr. Pat Lordan

That is difficult to answer. A threshold is required even to start an investigation never mind getting to the stage of preparing a file for the Director of Public Prosecutions and succeeding with a prosecution. It is difficult for the insurance companies, banks or anyone else dealing with the financial world to reach that threshold.

We look forward to the written response on those outstanding points.

I have a couple of points. We have touched on how the level of fraud is low in terms of what is referred to the Garda. What percentage of the total number of cases with which the Garda deals or investigates on a yearly basis relates to insurance fraud?

Mr. Pat Lordan

It is low. The figure quoted earlier was approximately 3%. It is there or thereabouts. However, there are other areas of fraud in the insurance world that we deal with as well. Ghost brokering is prominent at the moment. This is an area in respect of which we deal with insurance companies on a regular basis. We have dedicated people in our traffic unit in Dublin Castle and they are dealing with hundreds of cases of such fraud or ghost brokering.

Can the Garda representatives explain that?

Mr. Pat Lordan

It is basically where a criminal sets up and pretends to be an insurance broker. He may insure a young man for €500, but he would have obtained the insurance policy from a legitimate company by providing false information. The young man now thinks he is insured for €500 but the details provided to obtain that insurance are completely false. In reality, that driver is in difficulty if he has an accident.

He thinks because he has a disc that he is okay but that is not actually the case.

Mr. Pat Lordan

Another scenario arises where people pay their first instalment and then refuse to pay the balance. They may have only paid two months of a 12-month policy but they are driving around with insurance discs on their windscreens. Numerous investigations in this area are being carried out by the insurance companies.

Does automatic number plate recognition, ANPR, lead to those people being caught?

Mr. John Twomey

Yes, we have the ability. The information can be provided and uploaded through our ANPR system and we can identify those drivers whose vehicle insurance has lapsed.

When we discussed motor insurance three years ago, a report came to light. At the time, the ANPR system was relatively new and it was reporting a high number of false positives. Has the position in that regard improved?

Mr. John Twomey

It has improved. In the intervening period, the data was removed and work has been done on it. People were changing company every week. False positives were being provided. The information has improved in recent times.

How many ANPR vehicles are in place now?

Mr. John Twomey

There are about 110 to 120 vehicles at the moment but it is intended that that will increase.

Those vehicles are positioned on motorways and roads and will automatically scan number plates. There will be checks for insurance and tax. Is the national car test, NCT, also covered?

Mr. John Twomey

The NCT is not covered. It is primarily tax and insurance. Those vehicles are deployed as part of our roads policing units and primarily focus on road offences.

If somebody has signed up to a 12-month insurance system and but has only paid for two months, the ANPR system will know that that car is uninsured.

Mr. John Twomey

It will know that if the system is properly updated at the back end.

An Garda Síochána is relying on the insurance companies.

Mr. John Twomey

That is correct and we are relying on the information we have being accurate.

Regarding investigating fraud, if someone becomes aware of fraud, what mechanism exists for that person to report that information? I am referring to the case of someone having an insurance claim for a trip or a slip in a nightclub while at the same time it is the talk of the town that the same person is going on holidays and bungee jumping. Insurance companies use private investigators in some cases like that. What can an ordinary member of the public do in the case of a known insurance fraud? I accept that quite often no one will know about insurance fraud.

Mr. John Twomey

It is the same process as reporting any crime. The person with information would go to a member of An Garda Síochána and make a statement of complaint. That complaint would then be investigated. We will follow the evidence and investigate whatever evidence is provided to us. We will interview other people and gather evidence in the same way that we would investigate any statement of complaint that a crime has been committed.

The person making that complaint will then be expected to turn up in court and make a statement. That is a reasonably serious deterrent for many people who do not want to be caught giving information regarding their neighbours and other people of whom they are aware. There is no mechanism to disclose concerns about somebody anonymously.

Mr. John Twomey

We will always initiate an investigation of a crime on the basis of a complaint. We have to have a statement of complaint. There are some cases where we have become aware of information ourselves. In those cases we will go and investigate. Primarily, however, the simple method for investigating a complaint involves a complaint being made to us. There are opportunities and times, however, where we will pursue evidence and information that we come across ourselves. A balance needs to be maintained between complaints being made to us and anonymous complaints.

I appreciate that vexatious complaints may have no grounds. If someone is aware of information, however, he or she will often not want other people to be aware that a complaint has been made. The insurance companies have told us about examples, and I am sure An Garda Síochána also has examples, of one family being incredibly accident prone, to put it mildly. That could also apply to certain parts of a city or the country being much more involved with accidents. We hear of "Prime Time" type scenarios where 30, 40 or 50 accidents have been staged by or at least involved one family. In that case, there is no way for people to make complaints without being brought to court.

Mr. John Twomey

That information is available to the insurance companies and they are best placed to see those connections across the industry. Those are some of the investigations about which we have been talking. The day of action in April that we spoke about earlier focused on some of the very issues to which the Deputy has referred. The information and databases the insurance companies have provide the opportunity for those particular cases to be notified to An Garda Síochána, and those are the analytics of which I have spoken.

I will just tease this out a little more. If an insurance company is aware of these things and does not bring that information to An Garda Síochána, is that company guilty of an offence? I am referring to the company not bringing the information to An Garda Síochána and allowing it to make a judgment concerning how far to go with a complaint.

If an insurance company has 60,000 claims and rejects 10,000 of them, it has rejected them for a reason. They have been rejected because it does not believe them. In many instances, the people who made them have walked away and lived with it. The insurance company is aware of the situation and has made a decision not to pay out. The people involved have walked away, but should all of the 10,000 claims not go to An Garda Síochána for assessment? I appreciate that there would be an administrative and staff burden, but An Garda Síochána should investigate many more cases of fraud.

Mr. John Twomey

Section 19 is relatively clear in that regard. If companies are of the view that there is a breach, they are obliged to report it to us. That is the purpose of the section. That is a consideration the insurance companies have to make. I will flip it the other way around and pose the question as to what is the rationale for the companies not forwarding the information to An Garda Síochána. Are they satisfied that the cases are not beyond the threshold set out in section 19?

My point is that they should.

We have only ten minutes left.

I will conclude on this point.

I still have to call Senators Conway-Walsh and Paddy Burke.

On insurance fraud which accounts for 3% of the total, is it mostly concerned with motor insurance or does public liability insurance also form a part of it? We hear of cases involving diligent business owners who are facing claims where someone claims to have slipped. Video footage then appears which shows one friend hitting another in a fight and that was how a tooth was knocked out, for example, and all of a sudden the people involved in the claim walk away. Should not all such cases be investigated?

Mr. John Twomey

It primarily concerns motor insurance, but slips and falls have recently begun to become more frequent in the claims reported to us. It is perhaps related to some of the increased media focus on the issue. People are realising there is a-----

To conclude on the point, I refer to businesses such as Supermac's, nightclubs, pubs and restaurants which use closed-circuit television, CCTV, footage to prove to someone that he or she has no case and he or she has gone away. Mr. Twomey recommends that these companies should bring that information to An Garda Síochána and state they want the person involved to be prosecuted or at least investigated.

Mr. John Twomey

If they in any way believe a crime has been committed, they should report it to An Garda Síochána and we will investigate.

I thank Mr. Twomey.

I welcome Mr. Twomey and Mr. Lordan. On the reported number of fraud cases, is there a percentage breakdown as between the private and public sectors? Are the majority of cases in the public sector?

Mr. Pat Lordan

The majority of reports we receive are from private sector insurance companies.

Many insurance claims are made against local authorities and various other Government agencies in the public sector.

Mr. Pat Lordan

The majority are received from the private sector.

Would Mr. Twomey say the percentage is 80%:20%, 60%:40%, or does he have no idea?

Mr. Pat Lordan

There are very few reports received from the public sector.

CCTV cameras play a bigger role in a case where someone falls on a footpath, for example. Is it the case that there is a payout in those instances? Perhaps Mr. Twomey might not know the answer.

Mr. Pat Lordan

We have received very few reports. The ones we have received are being progressed. One of the cases that is ongoing in my bureau is very complicated and the report was received from the public sector. However, we do not see that many reports from the public sector.

Mr. Twomey thinks the public sector is not as diligent in reporting suspected cases of fraud. Does he think more could be done-----

Mr. Pat Lordan

I will not comment because I do not know enough about those cases. We do not see the details of cases that are settled or those that go to court. The one thing about CCTV footage is that if a person trips or falls and he or she states he or she has hurt his or her leg, unless he or she does something to make a claim, the incident will not reach the stage of prosecution.

The person has to progress to putting in a claim or doing something to make the effort. Often, if it is called out at a very early stage, one is left with a scenario where a person states that he tripped on the footpath but actually he may have had a few drinks, tripped on the footpath and then walked away. The person will not have made an affidavit, a statement or a complaint at that stage. Some of those are quite difficult. The Senator is better off addressing that to the public sector in order to see what it has to say.

In any event, is Mr. Lordan saying that there are very few claims made by the public sector that are fraudulent?

Mr. Pat Lordan

Very few.

Do dashboard and CCTV cameras play a big role in exposing the fraud that takes place?

Mr. Pat Lordan

Not really. The majority of these cases are not even reported to the Garda when the accident occurs. It is reported, maybe as a minor accident, and then a couple of months later the five or six claims are submitted to the insurance company. In most of these cases, there is no camera because it will be the culprit's car. If the driver is working together with another party, they will make sure that they do not have any cameras in their cars. They will also make sure that the accidents will not occur where there is any CCTV. Historically, they were not as good at that. Operation Nascar in Cork covered that fairly well but now we find that they are careful about selecting the location of where they will have their accidents.

Finally, I suppose forgery, which is a separate matter, is fraud as well. Are there many cases of forgery? How do they progress to the courts or how does the Garda follow up on cases of forgery?

Mr. Pat Lordan

The one we see quite a lot of is bogus or forged no-claims bonus certificates. We are seeing quite a substantial number of those being reported and motorists are being prosecuted for having these certificates.

Is it the driver with the disc who will be sued for the forged-----

Mr. Pat Lordan

Sorry, the Senator is talking about a forged disc.

Mr. Pat Lordan

There would be quite a substantial number of prosecutions in respect of forged tax discs and forged insurance discs.

Are there many cases involving forged bank notes?

Mr. Pat Lordan

Yes. We had a case at the weekend where a substantial amount of forged money was recovered in a house. There is quite a lot of forged money still going around the European Union.

Recently, I was in a bank where the machine gave out a forged €50 note. When the customer tried to deposit it into another account through the machine, it rejected the note. I suppose the customer must go through a rigmarole of reporting to the Garda and to the bank. At the end of the day, would the bank not take responsibility for that? Even though its machine gave out the money, the bank refused to allow it to be deposited in another account.

Mr. Pat Lordan

I am not sure what the circumstances of the withdrawal were. We see several notes coming into our office every week from all different parts of the country and we return them to the Central Bank. I cannot comment on the individual case the Senator is talking about because I do not know enough about it.

Would the bank have to own up as well? The bank, although not complicit, gave the note out in this case.

Mr. Pat Lordan

It may be as simple as that the previous customer handed in €50 to the bank over the counter and it handed the note out to the next customer. The bank may have known nothing about it.

I presume it will not be held responsible.

I thank our guests for their presentation on behalf of the Garda. I have just a couple of questions. In October 2018, PULSE was updated and insurance fraud was then categorised. What was the classification before then?

Mr. Pat Lordan

Before that, all frauds across the spectrum were recorded as deception or theft other. They were going into different categories of theft and fraud. Basically, we saw an increase in the different areas of fraud, one being insurance fraud. There are many other areas. These include: the letting of properties, bogus collectors, romance fraud, invoice redirect and business email compromise. We have set up a separate drop-down menu on the PULSE system for those.

There are now more than 20 categories on the PULSE system and insurance fraud is one of them.

There is reference to economic crime. How is economic crime defined?

Mr. Pat Lordan

It all comes under fraud and economic crime. That is the heading for all fraud. The different types of crime under fraud and economic crime are broken down into more than 20 categories.

In determining the increase or decrease in insurance fraud, do we not have any empirical data from before 2018?

Mr. Pat Lordan

It was very difficult to pull the statistics. It is important to note that there is no such offence under law as insurance fraud. That still creates problems for us. Insurance fraud is not a specific offence under the legislation.

Does Mr. Lordan believe it needs to be made an offence?

Mr. Pat Lordan

No.

If the absence of an offence of insurance fraud creates difficulty for the Garda, it would obviously need to be classed as a crime.

Mr. Pat Lordan

It is covered well under the legislation in place. There is not a specific offence for all the different types of crimes that exist under financial crime. Otherwise, given the way criminals think, we would have to add a new type of crime every couple of weeks. For example, romance fraud, which is quite new on the spectrum of crimes, is not a stand-alone offence. In most cases, the person will be charged under the theft and fraud offences.

These offences are all categorised now and the Garda has been able to measure and monitor them since 2018.

Mr. Pat Lordan

Yes.

The witnesses referred to the pilot projects, one of which is in County Mayo. How would an insurance company report insurance fraud differently under one of these projects? Will the witnesses would talk me through the steps involved?

Mr. John Twomey

In essence, we have tried to make the policing operation in a Garda division more efficient. In the Mayo division, we have a specific administrative unit. There is a team of people who look after all the administrative work and that has resulted in a number of members of An Garda Síochána being redeployed to front-line policing.

To clarify, where is this administrative work done? Is the team in Castlebar?

Mr. John Twomey

Yes.

There is an administrative team there dealing with insurance fraud only.

Mr. John Twomey

No. They are dealing with administration. There are a number of areas that the revised divisional policing model has focused on. It has streamlined the administrative process to free up gardaí to be redeployed to the front line. It has also streamlined the investigation of serious crime. There is now a detective superintendent in that area who has responsibility for the investigation of serious crime. Heretofore, that crime was investigated by each of the individual superintendents. Now, the more serious crime is allocated to a detective superintendent who co-ordinates the investigation. That enables the district officer to focus on providing the front-line response service to local communities. It is making the whole process within the community more efficient. As part of that, the resources are reporting to the detective superintendent. Additional training is being provided from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau with that support coming from the centre.

It is not particular to insurance fraud.

Mr. John Twomey

It is policing generally but some of the efficiencies should be felt in terms of greater time becoming available to investigate these and other issues.

How long has the pilot project been running?

Mr. John Twomey

It has been running since February of this year.

Is it too soon to tell what the outcomes are?

Mr. John Twomey

Yes.

In terms of the training that is being done, what does that constitute? For example, for how long will a garda or sergeant be trained in insurance fraud?

Mr. John Twomey

Every detective garda and sergeant will get specific training on his or her detective duties and the investigation of all serious crime. In the area of fraud, 132 members have completed their training and another 50 members will be trained this year. They get enhanced training in the area of fraud investigation.

For how many days does the training last?

Mr. John Twomey

That is a week-long training programme. I am open to correction on that.

With regard to competing resources, the court is trying to take insurance fraud more seriously. Are additional resources ring-fenced? Is this taking away from community policing and other areas where policing is needed?

Mr. John Twomey

Invariably it will be detectives – plain-clothes gardaí — who will work on the insurance-related fraud. Uniformed gardaí are ring-fenced and deployed for community policing. The intention is that it will not take away from the overt policing.

As we outlined earlier, it is demand-led. In areas such as Cork, there is a dedicated unit to investigate fraud, such is the demand there. In other areas, such is the demand that it is believed there are sufficient resources to investigate without having to dedicate people full time. It varies from case to case and in every Garda division. It varies dependent on the demand.

Why did the Garda pick Mayo for the pilot project?

Mr. John Twomey

We picked four different areas. We believe the four combined give us a proper review of all the demands in Ireland. We have an urban centre in the south inner city in Dublin. We have the rural area in Mayo. Galway gives us the urban–rural mix, and Cork city gives us the smaller urban centre.

When will the pilot project be completed?

Mr. John Twomey

We do not believe it will be completed; we believe it will be rolled out nationally. What we are doing at present is evaluating and learning lessons. We have learned some very valuable lessons, even in this short period, so we believe this model will be rolled out in the future. We are just determining what we have learned over the first couple of months. The intention is that, commencing around the end of this year, the model currently in place in the four divisions will be rolled out to the rest of the Garda divisions.

Does Mr. Twomey believe the Garda is very late in the day coming to this in respect of insurance fraud?

Mr. John Twomey

I spoke earlier about the demand and the work we do with the insurance companies. We have a protocol in place with them. We have a liaison officer in place with them. We are investigating any investigation reported to us. I am not sure I agree with the sentiment that we are coming to this too late, or anything like that.

The numbers are very small. I suggest that insurance fraud be put on the agenda of all the joint policing committees. New committees will be starting up following the local authority elections. Putting insurance fraud on the agenda would be good for raising awareness and encouraging people to report it. It would let people know what the Garda are doing about it and what to expect if they report it.

Is that a suggestion?

Mr. John Twomey

Yes.

Mr. Twomey might let us know before he leaves whether figures or information on fraud by banks are available. We have come through a pretty turbulent time with our banks and other financial institutions. Has any fraud been reported in the context of bank activity itself or that of financial institutions? If so, are there any cases ongoing? Mr. Twomey may respond to those questions in writing because we are caught for time.

I thank the witnesses for attending. The meeting has been very informative. I thank members for their co-operation.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.55 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 11 July 2019.